- Combination skin is generally oily on the nose and forehead (the t-zone) and dry on the cheeks
- Mild face washes that are neither too moisturizing nor too drying work best for combination skin
- Use face wash once or twice a day on combination skin, depending on what your skin tolerates
- You may need to use a different face wash depending on the season
A good face wash is an integral step in any skincare routine. But if you have combination skin, selecting one can be a difficult process unless you know what ingredients to look for and what to avoid.
How to Tell If You Have Combination Skin
Combination skin is a skin type in which parts of the face are oily and parts are dry. Usually, the t-zone (forehead, nose, and chin) have excess oil while the cheeks are dry. The face is often oilier overall in the summer and drier in the winter. Women with combination skin are also more likely to experience breakouts during their period.
How to Choose a Face Wash for Combination Skin
Face washes are formulated to counterbalance dryness or oiliness in the skin. Dry skin requires a moisturizing face wash, while face washes for oily skin help manage excess oil production.
To find the best face wash for your combination skin, first, distinguish between face washes and cleansers.
Face wash vs facial cleanser
Face washes produce a lather that deeply cleanses the skin. Because they are somewhat drying, face washes are best suited for people with oily skin.
Conversely, facial cleansers are better suited for people with drier skin. These skin care products, which include cleansing oils, cream cleansers and gel cleansers, lock in moisture while simultaneously cleansing the skin of accumulated oil, makeup and pollutants.
People with combination skin may decide to use a combination of face washes and cleansers, or mild formulations of either, to address the unique needs of their skin.
When looking for a face wash (as opposed to a facial cleanser), you’ll want to focus on mild, emollient or soothing formulations that can address oiliness without aggravating the dry areas of your face.
Combination skin and acne
If you have combination skin and acne, you’ll need a face wash that can manage sebum production and breakouts while still being gentle enough for everyday use.
Acne in drier combination skin is best managed with localized spot treatments; face washes designed for acne-prone skin are generally too drying for daily use on this skin type.
Ingredients to Look for in Face Washes for Combination Skin
The following ingredients may help address the unique needs of combination skin.
When your combination skin is feeling oily, incorporate a face wash containing salicylic acid (SA) into your skincare routine. SA is a keratolytic, meaning it dissolves the keratin that binds dead skin cells together to exfoliate the skin without any scrubbing. It also slows oil production in the skin.
You may be more likely to need a face wash with SA during the summer. Only use the product a few times a week and follow up with a moisturizer applied strategically on the areas of your face that need it most.
Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a humectant, meaning it helps skin retain water, and has been proven to help skin retain elasticity. During drier winter months, a face wash containing HA can prevent your combination skin from drying out too much without causing pimples in your t-zone.
Face washes with HA are safe for everyday use on combination skin, though you may want to alternate them with an oil-targeting face wash in the summer.
Vitamin E is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant that helps support skin health. Used topically, it’s an effective moisturizer and may prevent sun damage. A face wash containing vitamin E will moisturize the dry areas of your face without being too heavy for the oily areas.
Since glycolic acid can leave your skin feeling dry, you’ll be more likely to use a face wash containing it in the summer or if your combination skin tends toward oiliness.
The aloe vera plant has soothing, hydrating properties. A face wash containing aloe vera gel can hydrate drier combination skin while calming irritation and inflammation.
For combination skin that tends toward dryness, chamomile can soothe redness and irritation, especially during the dry winter months. Chamomile is gentle enough for everyday use, even on sensitive skin.
Ingredients to Avoid
People with combination skin should avoid face washes designed for very oily skin. Even if you experience oiliness on some areas of your face, the following ingredients are too harsh for the dry areas of your face and can lead to irritation.
Benzoyl peroxide fights acne by increasing cell turnover in the skin and killing acne-causing bacteria. However, its tendency to dry out skin make it unsuitable for daily use in a face wash for combination skin.
Alcohol is a common ingredient in face wash that is too drying to be used on combination skin. It should be especially avoided in the winter when your skin is drier.
Retinol, a vitamin A derivative, is considered difficult to use by almost everyone: its skin-tightening, anti-aging effects are often accompanied by dryness, redness and peeling. If you have combination skin, avoid using retinol in your daily skincare routine. Instead, use it only occasionally and in combination with a good moisturizer.
How to Use Face Wash for Combination Skin
Face wash can be used once or twice a day on combination skin. Many people prefer to thoroughly cleanse with a facial wash in the evening that removes makeup, oil and accumulated grime from the day. If necessary, finish off this deep cleansing with a toner targeted at any oily areas such as the t-zone.
In the morning, you can simply splash water on your face or, if your skin feels greasy, wash with a face wash again. Once your face is clean, always follow up with a sunscreen to prevent accumulating sun damage such as fine lines and dark spots.
You may find you need to use face wash twice a day in the summer and only once in the winter. If twice-daily use is too drying for your face, try only using face wash in the evening.
Because combination skin has both dry and oily areas, it can be difficult to choose a skin care product such as face wash that you use across the entire face. By choosing a gentle cleanser with mild ingredients, avoiding harsh anti-acne products and changing your skin care routine with the season, you can have combination skin that’s healthy, moisturized and acne-free.